The Environmental Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from 10 African countries on topics relating to environmental law, both substantive and procedural. The collection focuses on cases where an environmental interest interacts with governmental or private interests.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-area expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
Read also JIFA's Environmental Country Reports for SADC
This matter dealt with an appeal for a decision taken by the Magistrate’s Court to set aside the Local Court’s decision to absolve from the matter about the ownership of a certain piece of arable land.
It was the appellant’s case that while he was out of the country the chieftainship had deprived him of the land and reallocated it to the respondent who since used it. The respondent argued that the chief had rightly allocated the land to him and that the appellant had never been an occupant of said land. The appellant contended that a former directive issued by the court to make a determination of the ownership of the land when a dispute about the ownership arose before, had not been fulfilled and therefore the land would belong to him by default, as he had inherited it.
The High Court found that the issue was never resolved because the chieftainess could not confront the appellant with either of the two tenants whom he had given permission to stay on the land or the witness to the inheritance. Therefore, the appropriateness of the reallocation would have to be determined by senior chiefs before it could be brought to a competent court of law which was the Central Court and not the Local Court. The courts of law had, therefore, no jurisdiction on the matter before it had first been exhausted by the chieftainship in accordance with the Land Act of 1973 and the appeal was thus dismissed.
The court had to review an earlier decision by the same court. The accused was charged with contravening the Precious Stones Order of 1970 for wrongful and unlawful dealing in rough and uncut diamonds as a buyer or seller and for possession of uncut diamonds without a licence. The accused had pleaded guilty to all charges and convicted.
The court at hand had to decide on whether the first count of wrongful and unlawful dealing was appropriate in the circumstances and whether the charge and conviction should be amended.
The prosecutor relied on the testimony of the member in charge of the digging area who stated that when he searched the accused, he found three rough and uncut diamonds in her possession and upon requesting a valid dealing license, she failed to do so. There was no indication that the accused was going to sell those diamonds.
The court held that at the time the accused was apprehended she was not dealing in diamonds, but she was merely in possession of them. For there to be a crime there must be an act or on omission, a mere subjective contemplation of future criminal conduct which does not find outward expression indeed or omission is not criminally punishable.
The court held that the correct charge ought to have been one of possession and nothing more and ordered that the charge be amended accordingly. It however maintained that the previous sentence was adequate.
The court considered an appeal against a decision in the Environment and Land court, declaring that the respondent had trespassed on the applicant’s premises and that the respondent be ordered to vacate the area and demolish and structures it had erected.
The respondent alleged that it had settled in the area 45 years prior and had inherited the land from his father.
The appellant alleged it had purchased the property in 1994 but had not occupied or used the land. The lower court held that by the time the action was brought in 2008 there was evidence that the respondent had been in occupation for a period of time that would entitle him to raise the defense of limitation, and after the expiration of over 12 years, the appellant was precluded from bringing an action to recover the premises.
The question was whether the respondent had been in possession of the premises for over 12 years as at the time the suit to evict him was instituted in 2008, and whether his possession was averse to that of the appellant?
The court held that the relevant period would be between 1994, the date of registration of the appellant as the proprietor, and 2008, when the suit was filed. It held that the period translated to 14 years which meant the respondent could legitimately base his claim and dealt with the premises as if it was exclusively his. Thus dispossessing the appellant of its right to the land.
The court considered a petition whereby the petitioner sought an order of certiorari to quash a Gazette Notice declaring his land to be forest land. The petitioner had entered into a sale agreement with the original owner of the land by which the parties agreed to a down payment upon successful application to the land control board. The Petitioner took immediate possession and contracted to pay the balance of the purchase price after the maize season. The application was made and rejected due to the Ministry of Natural Resource’s interest in the land. Subsequently, the land control board met and the petitioner’s application was granted, however, the land was transferred to the government and marked a forest.
The petitioner argued that during the dispute, its members were harassed and evicted from their farms, with their houses being torched.
The court found that there was no doubt that the petitioner had entered into a sale agreement. Further, the control board acted in a manner to deny the petitioner the land. The court found that based on a letter received from the Commissioner of Land, there was a clear acknowledgment of foul play in the manner in which the government came to buy the land. Further, the government had deprived the petitioner of its right to land and subjected its members to poverty. In conclusion, the court held that the land was to be placed in the name of the petitioner as it was the rightful and lawful owner.
The matter concerned an allegation that the accused’s filling stations presented an environmental risk. Having been granted leave, the prosecutor, an environmental advocacy organisation instituted a private prosecution in the Gauteng Division of the High Court against the accused, a fuel supplies company.
The prosecutor claimed that it had complied with all the legislative requirements set out in s33 of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 to enable it to initiate such a prosecution. Counts 1 to 21 of the indictment alleged that the accused had contravened ss 21(1), 22(1) and 29(4) of the Environmental Conservation Act 73 of 1986 (“ECA”) as read together with other supporting environmental legislation. The said s 22(2) provided that authorisation of activities like construction of a service station would only be issued after consideration of reports concerning their impact on the environment. The accused formally pleaded to the charges divided into two sections. The first was a plea under s 106(1)(h) denying the prosecutor’s entitlement to prosecute and the other was a plea of not guilty under s 106(1)(b).
The court held that the claim under s 106(1)(h) on defence of want of title to prosecute failed. The court concluded that the prosecutor's case was straightforward and that the accused breached a duty relating to the protection of the environment. It held that in terms of s22(1) of the ECA the undertaking of certain identified activities was prohibited without written authorisation. The accused was convicted on 17 counts and acquitted on four.
This was an appeal against the decision of the trial court to award damages to the respondent in absence of expert evidence.
The appeal originated from an action for damages by the respondent. The respondent contended that the appellant’s seismic operations involving setting off explosive charges underground, caused cracks on the cement walls and concrete floors of his building.
The court determined whether the trial court erred in its holding. The court noted that the plaintiff led no expert evidence, while an expert for the defence testified that the explosive charges could not have damaged the respondent’s building. It was further noted that both parties disagreed on the extent of the damage on the respondent’s building.
The court held that expert evidence was necessary to connect the damage with seismic operations. The court also held that the trial court erred in its holding since the plaintiff failed to discharge the onus on him to establish such connection.
The court noted that there was a serious conflict in the description of the building; and relied on the holding in Seismograph Service (Nigeria) Limited v Esiso Akporuovo (1974) 6 SC to hold that a proper evaluation of the evidence required a judicial inspection of the building.
Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.
This was an appeal to the High Court against the decision of a magistrate to dismiss the appellant’s claim which concerned a dispute over a customary piece of land. While the appellant stated that the part of the land in dispute was his, the respondent maintained otherwise.
The issue for determination was whether the land belonged to the respondent or the appellant. The court held that in civil cases, the evidence was on a balance of probability. As such, the respondent’s evidence that he was the one given the land by the chief carried more weight and was therefore convincing. The court further held that customary lands were owned communally, which meant that the chief did not own the land as his belonging. Therefore, the court stated that the chief did not have the power to deprive one person of land and give it to another. In conclusion, the court upheld the decision of the court below and accordingly dismissed the appeal.
This was a mediation report regarding an action commenced by the plaintiffs against the installation of a water pump and other construction works on what was believed to be customary land. The plaintiffs sought to restrain the defendant from interfering with their customary rights on the land. They contended that the water pump installation plan violated their right to the use and enjoyment of their customary land. The matter was set for mediation.
The issue for resolution was whether the project interfered with the customary land held by the plaintiffs.
An agreement was reached by the parties to the effect that the project was located in an intersection of the road reserve which was public land pursuant to the Waterworks Act and that the defendants had obtained the requisite authority to install the water pump and related works. The proposed construction of the water pump was therefore not in violation of any customary rights for as long as it was restricted within the road reserve. Accordingly, the matter was resolved.
This Supreme Court case revolved around a compromise agreement between the fourth respondent and the appellant. The fourth respondent, a registered mining company, was going bankrupt and its management was entrusted to the liquidator. The liquidator then granted the appellant the right to treat stockpiles of ore at the mine to raise money to pay the creditors. The appellant then attempted to have all mining activities registered under its name. In doing so, the appellant misrepresented the facts to the third respondents without involving the fourth respondent stating that it paid the creditors their dues and as such, it was entitled to have mining activities registered under its name. However, the fourth respondent succeeded in establishing that the appellant was lying. This led the third respondent to cancel the appellant’s falsely obtained mineral rights. The High Court agreed with the respondents that the appellant's mineral rights over the plot in dispute were justifiably cancelled. The appellant felt aggrieved by the court’s judgement and appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issue for determination was whether the appellant was allowed to register mining rights under its name and whether the third respondent erred in cancelling its rights.
The Supreme Court held that agreements cannot be valid if consent was obtained through misrepresentation. Consequently, it found that the appellant was unjustified and supported the third respondent’s decision to cancel the falsely obtained rights.
The court considered a criminal appeal against the sentence imposed on the accused, who was sentenced to a mandatory 2-year imprisonment for contravening s 368 (1), which dealt with the illegal mining of gold, under the Mines and Minerals Act
Before imposing a mandatory sentence, the court asked the accused if there were any special circumstances relating to the commission of the offence which would result in the requisite sentence not being imposed.
The accused held that his special circumstances were that he did not have enough money for a bus fare. The court found that this did not constitute a special circumstance as poverty desperation could not be excused for the commission of a crime.
The court found that a special circumstance is within the court’s discretion and thus it should be taken to be any extenuating circumstance. Further, that the court should enquire into all circumstances put forward by an accused to validate the aspect of a special circumstance.
The court held that a trial court had to ensure that economic situations leading to commission of crimes under economic circumstances at the time did not operate differently for the rich and for the poor. The court found that the court below should have performed a proper enquiry and that the accused should be given the benefit of the doubt. Accordingly, the appeal succeeded.
The court considered a criminal appeal against the sentence imposed on the accused.
The accused was convicted, on his own guilty plea, for contravening s 3(1)(a) of the Gold Trade Act by being in possession of 0.15 grams of gold without authorisation.
The evidence revealed that the accused was asked whether there were any special circumstances, which the court below established did not exist and sentenced him to the mandatory minimum sentence.
The accused argued that the trial judge did not explain in full what special circumstances meant and the inadequate explanation prejudiced him. The respondent agreed and stated that the explanation was “special or extraordinary mitigating factors” where it should have referred to special circumstances.
The court found that the Act did not define special circumstances, and it was on a case by case basis. However, the court below took all necessary steps to explain the meaning and import of special circumstances, which was given in clear unambiguous terms.
The court found that the accused was not an illiterate person and appreciated what was taking place and there was nothing preventing him from asking the magistrate for clarity. Further, that the accused’s conduct once arrested, in running away illustrated a guilty state of mind.
The court found that the accused’s special circumstance of “being the only breadwinner” was clear that he was aware of the offence being committed. As such, the court found no merit in the appeal.
Constitutional law – Constitution of Zimbabwe 1980 – Declaration of Rights – right to protection of the law – prosecution of former farm employees for unlawfully remaining on farm after acquisition – legislation creating an offence to do so constitutional – no constitutional issue arising
Land – acquisition – former employees remaining on farm – no right to do so – employment ceased on acquisition of farm – liable to prosecution for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority
In this High Court case, the applicant had an agreement with the respondent aimed at selling a herd of cattle to the applicant. Based on this agreement, the respondent proceeded to take the herd of cattle presented in the contract without paying for them. An attempt to charge the respondent for theft through the police did not work as the police hesitated to prosecute the respondent because they contended that they would have a weak case.
Then, the applicant decided to prosecute the case privately charging the respondent for spoliation. The applicant demanded that the court should declare that the herd of cattle that were taken by the respondent, in fact belonged to him.
Thus, the issue for determination by the court was to show cause why a declaration should not be made against the respondent to the effect that the herd of cattle be restored to the applicant.
On perusal of the given evidence, the High Court held that the respondent failed to show that the applicant allowed him to take the herd of cattle in dispute. Subsequently, the applicant was despoiled of the herd of cattle, that is, possession should be restored to the applicant. The respondent was also ordered to hand over to the applicant the progeny of the cattle forming the subject matter of the proceedings.